Chicago's public school system in the 1980sand '90s was a stark symbol of the nation's educational crisis. Grim reflections of their poverty-stricken neighborhoods, the city's schools were saddled with severe drug problems and the inevitable violence that results. Veteran Chicago Sun-Times journalist Leslie Baldacci was an expert on the subject. She wrote regularly on the school system's woes, calling on the mayor and other city officials to save the decaying system. Then, one day, she decided to do something about it. Baldacci traded in her press pass for a teaching certificate, and never looked back.
With high ideals and great expectations, the author was soon teaching in one of Chicago's toughest South Side neighborhoodsand quickly learned that noble ideas would go only so far. "In reality, my classroom was just one deck chair on the Titanic," she comments. Overcrowded classrooms, little if any infrastructure, and more than enough derision and contempt to go around added up to a problem extending well beyond her educational training. It would take determination, persistence, and, perhaps above all, a sense of humor to make a practical difference in the lives of these students.
Inside Mrs. B's Classroom is Baldacci's extraordinary memoir of life in the trenches of inner-city teaching. She takes us inside the classroom, and introduces us to a colorful cast of charactersboth students and teachers alike. With wry wit and a sharp sense of irony, Baldacci relates her story with the grace and ease one needs to manage the days in a classroom such as hers. Developing strong (and absolutely essential) bonds with her fellow teachers proves to be her saving grace, but surprisingly, her students become her greatest inspiration. "Leaving school to walk home after gunfire had spit bullets through the neighborhood . . . they were my role models. As long as they kept coming to school, so would I," she says.
Inside Mrs. B's Classroom is gritty and realistic, yet refreshingly funny and positive. Baldacci's dual career makes for an entertaining, informative tale, which weaves together her teacher's knowledge of the system and reporter's eye for detail. We're treated to an inspiring story of success, and come away with the conviction that one person can make a difference.
An Inside Look at the Daily Grind in Chicago's Inner-City Schools
Chicago Sun-Times reporter Leslie Baldacci gave up her lucrative career to teach in her city's decaying public school system, certain that she'd be able to conquer this challenging new world. As she later commented, "I thought I knew rough. I thought I had answers. I didn't know jack."
But despite the difficulties she faced, including overpopulated classrooms, little to no faculty support, and a demanding workload that pushed her to her limit, Baldacci dove into her work, persevered, and eventually triumphed. She learned to catch the imagination and enthusiasm of studentsand got to know these children betterchildren who often faced incredible challenges outside the school walls.
Along the way she used her journalistic eye to observe and analyze the workings of the Chicago Public School system from the front lines. The result is an informed, insightful work that takes into account both the very human element of the children and their teachersas well as the red tape that surround them. She shares the unrealistic expectations, the surprises, and the individuals who make up education today. And above all, she shows how one dedicated person can make a difference.
Leslie Baldacci is still a classroom teacher and writes for the Chicago Sun-Times.
As a journalist for the Chicago Sun-Times for 25 years, Baldacci reported on Chicago's education crises before school reform became popular, and she applauded Mayor Richard M. Daley's efforts to improve contract negotiations with teachers, repair decaying buildings and better the struggling South Side's financial status. Instead of continuing to lobby for amelioration of the situation from behind her desk, Baldacci "turned in [her] press credentials to become a teacher." Since making that initial foray four years ago, she's compassionately demonstrated devotion to her inner city high school special-education students, whose school circumstances a former U. S. education secretary called "an educational disaster" (and which the author herself likens to the sinking of the Titanic). In diary-like prose, Baldacci recounts the apprehensions that plagued her as she applied to become an intern teacher through an alternative certification program whose aim was to address the national teacher shortage. She describes her first day, when she was armed with excitement and anxiety, as a nightmare, noting she "had never seen kids act like that in a classroom with an adult present." With 36 students crammed into her room, Baldacci attempted to impart wisdom while the threads of her students' lives wrapped around her. In addition to teaching, the writer asserts that she learned numerous things from her students, including empathy. Baldacci's book is both beautiful and heartbreaking. It belongs in a "first day kit" for new teachers and deserves a hard look from legislators, school administrators and voters who are considering cutting budgets in school districts across the country. (Oct.) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.